“Everything happens for a reason” is an acorn of popular wisdom that I often find myself gnawing on. When something good happens, we delight in tracing back all the events that made it so, convinced fate must have surely intervened. When bad things happen, we’re not so interested in seeing how the “magic” of the universe was at play. An amusing “postcard” came through my Facebook feed the other day: A line drawing of a woman on the phone, the text reading: “Everything happens for a reason, and sometimes the reason is you’re stupid and make bad decisions.” My other favorite rebuttal to everything-happens-for-a-reason was a line in an essay I read recently that went something like this: I’m the sort of person who thinks people who think everything happens for a reason need to open a newspaper.
And yet, the gnawing continues, and sometimes I can’t help but succumb to believing in meant-to-be magic.
I just wrapped up another year of teaching memoir writing for UW’s PCE program, and we always end the year with a celebratory reading at the University Bookstore. On Tuesday night, each writer from the class read a short excerpt from the work they did this year. Over the course of the year, their skills as writers have improved: they open with an attention grabbing lead; they use specific details and authentic bits of dialogue. They know how to tell a story. But what I hear the most clearly–as they take the podium one by one–is how they’ve come into their authority as writers, their willingness to stand before strangers and loved ones (give me strangers any day) and say: This is what I think, what I feel. Unequivocally. It’s this. Listen.
We randomly choose the order of the readers. And Random put Deidre Allen Timmons in the middle of the pack, but the reality of Tardiness trumps the whimsy of Random everytime, and thus bumped her into the spot of the night’s final reader. When she started to read this piece someone later called “a call to arms,” the crowd fell quiet.
I couldn’t help but think it was meant to be.
THE KINDNESS OF DREAMS
By Deirdre Allen Timmons
I don’t believe in shelving dreams.
You have one life. It’s short. There are seven billion people on Earth – and guess what – you don’t matter.
So pick your biggest, boldest, most unattainable dream … and go for it. Few people will care what you do in the end. Few people will care what you don’t do in the end. Only you will care, along with some ancillary characters, and really they’re so engrossed in their own teeny tiny journeys, that they’ll hardly register what you’re doing. As those characters — your friends, your parents, your family — close their circles of life, you’ll see what they did notice about you is how you loved them, if you were true to yourself, and yes, whether or not you chased your dreams.
Marlon Brando once said, “If we are not our brother’s keeper, at least let us not be his executioner.”
It is our innate duty not to kill one another. That principle is usually applied to the literal, corporeal sense. Do not put a bullet to his heart.
But no, it’s more like, do not put a poker to his eyes and skewer his vision. Let him see his light and go to it. Help him go to it. And he, in return, will help you go to yours.
Not easy if your brother is addicted to meth, or suffers depression, or seethes with jealousy as you purse on and reach for your stars. But as you hit new plateaus, turn to him, smile, tell him you’re proud of him, even if all he was able to do that morning was get out of bed and brew a pot of coffee. Tell him that you love the way he tells a joke, or irons a shirt, or plays the guitar. He will hear your acknowledgement and the executioner in his head will step back a few feet, rope in hand.
Then, and listen very carefully because this can be painful to accept, when you tell him that you had your first article published, or that you had your first child, or that you made your first film, he may reduce your own little conquests to an insult.
“Oh, I see the D-D channel is on every station,” he may say. “It’s fucking obnoxious.”
But that is only because he can’t free himself from his tightly-bound self-loathing. He may live in a dark cave to which his eyes have acclimated. He may not be able to open his eyes to your light. Your glow may shine too brightly in its innocent pride for him to tolerate.
So shade your pridefulness. It’s a private moment. You don’t have to hang it all out there right now. Forget about branding and marketing and social networking. Just, consider the soul.
Turn to him and reiterate, “Thanks for the coffee. You make the best coffee. And yeah, I’m just a loud mouth, but I wasn’t given the gift of music like you were, so I have to tap dance like a monkey to make up for it.” Smile. Don’t let your teeth show. That would be too big of a smile. Too much hubris. Sip your coffee, his coffee. Then ask, “Will you play something for me?”
His seeds of self-loathing may re-sort. He may pick up his guitar. He may not. But change the subject and know that on some level, he is proud of you. He just can’t say it. It hurts too much.
He has dreams too. It is not your job to kill his dreams – or forget that he may even have them — as you chase yours. Nevertheless, you must chase yours, because guess what? Your brother (Your mother? Your father? Your partner? Your child?) is proud of you, and every grueling step you take forward, he, she, they? … are right behind you, rooting for you like a teenaged cheerleader, poms poms flying in the air. Just as they want you to stand right behind them, cheering them on.
Do not stop.
Do not shelve your dreams.
I don’t believe in it.